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Ruth Crawford Seeger's Worlds

Ruth Crawford Seeger's Worlds: Innovation and Tradition in Twentieth-Century American Music

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 322
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  • Book Info
    Ruth Crawford Seeger's Worlds
    Book Description:

    Ruth Crawford Seeger's Worlds offers new perspectives on the life and pioneering musical activities of American composer and folk music activist Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953). Ruth Crawford developed a unique modernist style with such now-esteemed works as her String Quartet 1931. In 1933, after marrying Charles Seeger, she turned to the work of teaching music to children and of transcribing, arranging, and publishing folk songs. This collection of studies by musicologists, music theorists, folklorists, historians, music educators, and women's studies scholars reveals how innovation and tradition have intertwined in surprising ways to shape the cultural landscape of twentieth-century America. Contributors: Lyn Ellen Burkett, Melissa J. De Graaf, Taylor A. Greer, Lydia Hamessley, Bess Lomax Hawes, Jerrold Hirsch, Roberta Lamb, Carol J. Oja, Nancy Yunhwa Rao, Joseph N. Straus, Judith Tick. Ray Allen (Brooklyn College) is author of Singing in the Spirit: African-American Sacred Quartets in New York City. Ellie M. Hisama (Columbia University) is author of Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford Seeger, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-685-1
    Subjects: Music
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword (pp. vii-x)
    Carol J. Oja

    With its 2001 Ruth Crawford Seeger Centennial Festival, which inspired this book, the Institute for Studies in American Music (ISAM) at Brooklyn College once again galvanized exploration of a crucial area of American music. In the case of Crawford Seeger, the career of a strikingly original composer provided a focus for discussion about a nexus of issues: gender and compositional style, aesthetics and politics, modernism and populism, and the legacy of one of the most prominent American families in folk music performance and preservation. At the same time, ISAM marked its own thirty-year anniversary. The tale of how Crawford Seeger’s...

  4. Introduction (pp. 1-10)
    Ray Allen and Ellie M. Hisama

    Over the past quarter century a cadre of scholars, critics, performers, and arts programmers have worked to stretch the contours of America’s cultural canon to include the musical activities of women. Thanks to their focus on an array of practices ranging from the compositions of Amy Beach and Margaret Bonds to the revolutionary vocalizations of Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, and Bessie Smith, to the postmodern performance of Laurie Anderson and Pauline Oliveros, our understanding and appreciation of women’s musical creativity has vastly expanded. Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901–1953) occupies a unique position in the pantheon of twentieth-century musical women, for...

  5. Chapter One Writing the Music of Ruth Crawford into Mainstream Music History (pp. 11-32)
    Judith Tick

    We begin with the first stanza of a ballad composed by a daughter, Peggy Seeger (b. 1935) about her mother, Ruth Crawford.¹ Memory and reconciliation fill its poignant lyrics; a lingering modal tune makes them Anglo-American-timeless. Little did the daughter know the extent of her mother’s “different tunes,” for Peggy Seeger, who has a long and distinguished career as a folk revival singer and songwriter, came to her understanding of Crawford’s importance as a composer later rather than sooner, as an adult rather than a child.

    That process of understanding has its parallels in the larger world of music history....

  6. Chapter Two Ruth Crawford’s Precompositional Strategies (pp. 33-56)
    Joseph N. Straus

    Ruth Crawford’s “ultramodern” music anticipated and enabled the achievements of subsequent generations of American composers. Rejecting the forms and sonorities of traditional European art music, including its triadic basis, she created a new musical language that favored dissonant intervals, promoted the radical independence of the parts in a polyphonic texture, explored new sound combinations, and sought innovative ways of structuring rhythm and timbre.¹ This chapter addresses one particular feature of her compositional style, namely, her precompositional strategies, or schemes. In many of her works, she decided in advance to build the piece around a specific musical idea and its repetitions....

  7. Chapter Three Linear Aggregates and Proportional Design in Ruth Crawford’s Piano Study in Mixed Accents (pp. 57-72)
    Lyn Ellen Burkett

    Tradition and Experiment in (the New) Music(TENM), Charles Seeger’s treatise on dissonant counterpoint, is the product of an intense period of collaboration between Seeger and Crawford from the summer of 1930 through September of 1931. The treatise is best understood not as a finished document, but as a glimpse into Seeger and Crawford’s thoughts on experimental music at the time it was written.¹ Nancy Yunhwa Rao traces the development of Seeger’s ideas with a focus on his conception of the neume—Seeger’s term for a specific type of musical motive—and its relationship to phrase, form, modes, and scales...

  8. Chapter Four In Pursuit of a Proletarian Music: Ruth Crawford’s “Sacco, Vanzetti” (pp. 73-93)
    Ellie M. Hisama

    Ruth Crawford’s 1932 song “Sacco, Vanzetti” commemorates the notorious trial and execution of the Italian immigrant anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti during the previous decade. On April 15, 1920, a paymaster and a guard for the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company were robbed and fatally shot in South Braintree, Massachusetts, by four to five men.¹ On May 5, 1920, the police arrested two Italian immigrants—Sacco, a shoemaker, and Vanzetti, a fish peddler—as suspects in the crime. The newly appointed director of General Intelligence in the Department of Justice, J. Edgar Hoover, oversaw the proceedings, and prosecutors for...

  9. Chapter Five The Reception of an Ultramodernist: Ruth Crawford in the Composers’ Forum (pp. 94-109)
    Melissa J. de Graaf

    Ruth Crawford’s experience in the Composers’ Forum in 1938 marked a turning point during a static time in her career, possibly providing just the inspiration the struggling composer needed to reestablish her faltering professional identity.¹ Never a prolific composer, Crawford experienced an unusually unproductive period from 1932 to 1938—her only surviving work the three-part agitprop round “When, Not If” and a group of twenty-two folk song settings. A number of works from the early 1930s were either left unpublished or were lost. She left two orchestral pieces unfinished around 1932, a year that also witnessed the crisis in her...

  10. Chapter Six Ruth Crawford’s Imprint on Contemporary Composition (pp. 110-147)
    Nancy Yunhwa Rao

    “There was a feeling, right or wrong—that isn’t the question, it was a question of taste—that if we begin performing works which presented very definitely you might say—if you want to say it—the end of an era but not the beginning of what we felt wasourera, there was always a fear of sliding back.”¹ These are the words of Claire Reis reminiscing about the League of Composers and the necessity for modern works to reflect the spirit of the times, a view that was widely shared among her colleagues. Edgard Varèse, for example, saw...

  11. Chapter Seven Reminiscences on Our Singing Country: The Crawford Seeger/Lomax Alliance (pp. 148-152)
    Bess Lomax Hawes

    As the jazz age spiraled into the Depression years and a renewed focus on the situation of the “common man (and woman)” emerged, songbooks like Carl Sandburg’sThe American Songbagand my father and brother’sAmerican Ballads and Folk Songsbegan to appear alongside the familiar hymnals, opera chorus excerpts, and the popular song collections of Gilbert and Sullivan, Berlin, and Gershwin. The typical songbook of the period included lyrics, an outline of the tune in musical notation together with full piano accompaniment, and occasionally guitar chords. The idea was to gather around the piano and sing the songsen...

  12. Chapter Eight Philosophical Counterpoint: A Comparison of Charles Seeger’s Composition Treatise and Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Folk Song Appendix (pp. 153-168)
    Taylor A. Greer

    Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger formed one of the most unusual artistic partnerships in twentieth-century American musical life. In a recent essay Judith Tick portrays the collaboration between them in musical terms:

    The two shared so much in their evolution from modernist warriors, battling for what Crawford called “modern American dissonant music,” to urban folk song revivalists that Seeger’s prescription for new music in the 1920s fits the texture of their odyssey: “Sounding apart while sounding together.” This phrase … captures the range of interactions within theintellectual counterpoint[italics mine] of this marriage: language shared, sources cited, subjects...

  13. Chapter Nine Composing and Teaching as Dissonant Counterpoint (pp. 169-195)
    Roberta Lamb

    Ruth Crawford Seeger is known for her systematic and analytical approaches to composing, transcribing, and teaching. At the same time, her work in these fields has been characterized as warm, spontaneous, and intuitive. Though appearing to represent opposing polarities, these descriptors are fundamental to the makeup of Crawford Seeger’s character, as can be demonstrated through an examination of her music, her writing, her children’s folk song anthologies, and the comments of friends and family. How different this picture is from the one filling my mind thirty years ago—that of a woman composer whose gifts were never fully realized due...

  14. Chapter Ten “Cultural Strategy”: The Seegers and B. A. Botkin as Friends and Allies (pp. 196-223)
    Jerrold Hirsch

    Today Ruth Crawford Seeger, Charles Seeger, and B. A. Botkin are recognized as vital cultural mediators in the construction of a public memory of American folklore and roots music. During the New Deal, they tried to forge a new role for the federal government in American culture by establishing national folklore institutions that would create an arc between folklore research and the dissemination of that research to a broad audience of culturally minded Americans. They developed what they called a “cultural strategy”¹ that sought to create a place for folklore research within the federal government. But that was only a...

  15. Chapter Eleven Performing Dio’s Legacy: Mike Seeger and the Urban Folk Music Revival (pp. 224-251)
    Ray Allen

    On November 18, 1953, the day Ruth Crawford Seeger succumbed to cancer, her two oldest children sang at a Washington book fair to promote their mother’s newly published volume,American Folk Songs for Christmas. Twenty-year old Mike and eighteen-year old Peggy strummed guitars, picked banjos, and caroled songs of rejoicing shepherds and crooning angel bands only hours before their mother was spirited away.¹ TheWashington Post, in an announcement of the upcoming book fair, reported that Mike felt a “special thrill” to be performing songs from his mother’s new book.² Dio (Mike’s childhood name for his mother) would undoubtedly have...

  16. Chapter Twelve Peggy Seeger: From Traditional Folksinger to Contemporary Songwriter (pp. 252-288)
    Lydia Hamessley

    In her prefatory remarks toAmerican Folk Songs for Children, composer Ruth Crawford Seeger wrote, folk song “has crossed and recrossed many sorts of boundaries, and is still crossing and recrossing them. It can give [us] a glimpse of ways of life and thought different from [our] own.”¹ Her assertion can be used as a framework within which to examine the music of her eldest daughter, Peggy Seeger, one of the eminent voices of the folk song revival of the 1950s and 1960s. Peggy’s career has been shaped and defined by the constant crossing of boundaries. From her classical music...

  17. Selected Discography (pp. 289-292)
  18. List of Contributors (pp. 293-296)
  19. Index (pp. 297-308)
  20. Back Matter (pp. 309-313)